Friday, 21 May 2010

Cairns Post in turmoil as editor gets the chop

In the latest of a series of sudden staff departures, just 15 months after he was appointed as editor of the Cairns Post, replacing Mark Alexander in February 2009, Andrew Webster has been sacked from the paper's top job.

CairnsBlog has been informed that Andrew Webster's [pictured right] employment was terminated because of falling circulation numbers. However staff have revealed a range of issues that they feel may have contributed to an "unhealthy" and an increasingly "uncomfortable" workplace.

Yesterday afternoon staff were called together to hear the shock announcement from Post general manager Nick Trompf.

Little explanation was offered why Webster, a former editor of the Innisfail Advocate, was dismissed after just 15 months in the top job. It's believed that Webster has been offered another role in the NewsLtd group, however hasn't decided on his next move as yet.

Some Cairns Post staff who spoke to CairnsBlog on the agreement of anonymity, said there has been a degree of bullying and intimidation at the paper.

In the last 12 months, there has been a high-turnover of staff leave the Post. In addition, a number of well-known journalists have resigned due to concerns about their working environment.

When one Post reporter was questioned late yesterday afternoon, he said he couldn't talk about the matter. Yet when asked if he would deny that Webster had either resigned or been fired, he simply laughed.

As a vocal advocate for change at the Cairns Post under Mark Alexander's stewardship, I have used CairnsBlog, often calling into question when so-called advertisements appeared as stories, and when they used the front page (and page 3), for full page photo of bikini-clad minors. It demeans the paper whose job, in the editor's own words, is to be a champion of the community. In one coffee meeting with Alexander whilst discussing the relevance of such titillating content in place of real news, he flippantly responded: "Yeah, but she's stunning, isn't she!"

A series of public goofs haven't gone un-noticed. At one stage, acting Letters manager and a former editor, Alan Hudson missed a scathing and hate-filled letter being published attacking the Mayor. A series of apologies were subsequently printed.

Last week, the ABC's Media Watch programme critically challenged the "alarmist" reporting when Post reporter Margo Zlotkowski returned to Cairns from Papua New Guinea and fell ill. The Post cover page ran with a "Cholera Concern" scare campaign, suggested that an outbreak could spread across Queensland. Queensland Health downplayed concerns and the reporting was severely criticised, as the disease cannot be transmitted by airborne human transmission.

The Cholera story mirrored another dramatic over-reaction a year early, when the Post ran a cover headline "Swine Flu might be here."

Veteran activist Bryan Law has also been critical of the paper's duty to support and report for the community. Following one of Law's demonstrations, he was described by reporter Henry Tuttiett as a serial "pest". The Post's thesaurus was evidently running out of descriptions to use for the colourful character. Bryan Law strongly criticised the paper in an open letter on CairnsBlog that enraged editor Webster.

"Is he [Webster] avoiding you?" general manager Nick Trompf asked Bryan Law. "Well leave it to me."

Trompf [pictured right] subsequently pressured the editor, and Law was then invited to write an opinion piece in the paper, explaining his reasons for civil disobedience and non-violent actions over the last 30 years.

"I suspect Nick has been keeping an eye on Andrew and I'd say Andrew has made a lot of non-friends," Bryan Law says. "However, I sharn't miss Henry Tuttiett, and I sharn't miss Andrew Webster. It's very good to hear that Andrew is going. Maybe they could give Gavin [King] the job!"

As a growing regional city, we were looking for a new direction as Alexander departed at the beginning of 2009. Respected local musician and independent journalist Tony Hillier, wrote to Webster in his first few weeks, to offer a welcome and also to share some rather blunt realisations how he felt the Post's past performance was viewed in the community. In his early editorials, Andrew Webster espoused virtues of local and community and wanting to listen to his audience, well aware of public criticism. However such lofty ideas, have rarely materialised.

A raft of key staff departures over the last 12 months, has called into question what is going on at the once-proud regional newspaper.

Controversial columnist and chief of staff Gavin King, left due to serious editorial conflicts with Andrew Webster. King now writes for the Sunday Mail, based in Cairns. Business and community reporter Roger Dickson, left suddenly last year. It was said he resigned via a text message to the editor from his mobile phone.

Council reporter Thomas Chamberlin departed only after a short stint, to be transferred to a South East Queensland paper. He was farewelled at a party by then Council communications manager Kerie Hull and Councillor Alan Blake. Hull wrapped a present in newspaper pages from the 'Cash for comments' episode. In the last few days, reporter Henry Tuttiett has also left the paper.

Weekday circulation has dropped to 25,029, and 43,129 for the weekend edition. As a comparison, CairnsBlog has around 29,000 'regular return visitors' that access the site via an Australian ISP. The Post readership, which is at best a rough guesstimate, is published at 84,000 weekdays, and 112,000 on Saturday. Unique visitors to is said to be 101,099 - which would have a high proportion from overseas or interstate as the website is geared to a tourism-focus. The average web visit is 6 minutes, 41 seconds, most viewing the bikini photo galleries.

New Cairns Regional Council CEO Lyn Russell was aware of the paper's lack of support for her Council, delivering a poor image and reputation in the community. At a meeting in her first few weeks, it was mooted to run councillor training, however some expressed concern that the Cairns Post may make up some dirt on the plans and money ill spent. Russell reassured them that she would 'deal with the Post', especially in light of Council's large advertising spend. Certainly Cairns Regional Council's relationship with the Post since Ms Russell's appointment, appears to have improved dramatically.

Councillor Robert Pyne told CairnsBlog, that he has also noticed a change in the paper over his tenure.

"There has been a change it seems, and it's very interesting how they were not that long ago supported Kevin Byrne and now the total opposite has happened," Pyne said. "Something has definitely happened."

The community has increasingly become cynical about the paper's ability to report and retain credibility. More and more, dramatic shock 'tabloid-style' cover stories unearthed nothing but sensation. Vacuous nonsense often seems to be the litmus test for a cover. Yesterday's story of employees at a wildlife park (see new cover rendition, right), stole the limelight from serious financial corruption allegations in the local LNP.

Last evening, Cairns Post general manger Nick Trompf was seen relaxing at the new D'Vine fish cafe and rum bar, in Abbott Street. There certainly has been some fishy things going on at Nick's newspaper. We wait with bated breath for the next editor to roll into town.


Bazza said...

Are you kidding, King as editor, somebody would be going thru a mental lapse to even contemplate that. The post needs a mature non biased person, King doesn't even come close to that, you only have to listen to him on the moron's talk back program to ascertain his lack of ability.

Tony Hillier said...

As the first FNQ editor of the Cairns Post since Alan Hudson, it was hoped that Andrew Webster would elevate the content and the quality of its coverage of local affairs. Alas, he failed miserably to match the tenor of his early rhetoric. When are we going to get a daily newspaper that merits respect — one that truly reflects life in Cairns and environs?

Syd Walker said...

I herewith apply for the Cairns Post Editor's job.

I trust this is the appropriate place to post an application?

Here's the deal Rupert.

I require genuine editorial freedom to present without interference well-documented, carefully-researched material, publication of which in the public interest; in turn, I'll accept a salary based on results with challenging targets.

I note you're especially interested in the Internet these days. I agree – it's central to the future of mass communications.

Hence if I don't double the number of website viewers in a month, please fire me . Likewise, fire me if I haven't increased the Cairns Posts' website viewers by at least ten times in six months.

I'd like to be paid at the going rate for a junior news corp editorial hack, tithed so 10% of the salary is directed to a charity assisting Iraqi, Afghani or Palestinian orphans and refugees. Call it conscience money if you like; it will help me to bring myself to bank your cheques.

Please note that one of the ways I shall boost viewing levels is by honest reporting about News Corp itself - such as the deep complicity of most if not all of News Corp Australian newspapers and other media outlets in getting Australia engaged in a series of illegal, interminable bloody wars that have ZERO to do with Australia's genuine national interest.

To complete this application, here's a taster of the front page I have in mind for Day One of my editorship.

I intend to run this recent speech by Professor David Ray Griffin, entitled: Is the War in Afghanistan Justified by 9/11?

Michael has my email address if you care to get in touch.

Yours sincerely etc

Heather Design (via Facebook) said...

Mr Moore as always, your voice is a breath of fresh air :)

Charmaine Alford (via Facebook) said...

I love the fact that your regular visitors number is higher than the weekday circulation figure of "The Compost" (Cairns Post)!!! :-)

Jamie D of Clifton Beach said...

Great news!!!!!!!!!!!!

I've been fooled before said...

This wasn't in the Cairns post.... is it another classic cairnsblog april fool's jokes????!!

Doreen Kennedy said...

There sure has been a number of people leave the Cairns Post....

Everytime I see a workplace like that....... I run a mile.

and there are a few around sadly

Bryan Law said...

Hey Bazza, I don't know any non-biased people, but I do know folk who are passionate about participation, free discussion and accountability.

My support isn't going to win Gavin King brownie points with any institution in Cairns, but I reckon he would steer a lively local newspaper where a range of citizens (as distinct from the usual blarney boosters) could get a guernsey.

Of course, his present gig with the Sunday Mail is a dream job, and editing the Cairns Post in today's media world could be something of a poisoned chalice. There'd have to be a question whether or not he'd take the job if it was offered.

I reckon we could do a lot worse.

Syd Walker said...

No-one can doubt Bryan Law's credentials as a masochist and a devout Christian.

In the comment above, he endorses Gavin King as a suitable editor for the Cairns Post.

A brief review of the CairnsBlog online archive suggests the compliment is not necessarily returned.

This is what CairnsBlog wrote in early 2008 - see The King of Narrow-Mindedness

"Every Saturday he [Gavin King] pours out a high pressure piece for all to digest, or re digest their breakfast with.

"Today's was an amazing tirade against those who wish to save the Cairns Yacht and Aquatic Club, boxed in behind the converging waterfront high rises.

"King's suggestion that objectors should move somewhere else "more suited to your antiquated tastes".... "

Bryan's 'endorsement' of Gavin King for editor indicates his almost infinite capacity for forgiveness, a very Christin virtue.

But why doesn;'t Bryan extend foregiveness to other Yacht Club sinners, such as Desley Boyle?

Tell us Bryan... Did she do something worse to you than demand you leave town?

Bryan Law said...

Much worse Syd. She lied to me, and to the electorate, about her role and responsibility for the destruction of Cairns' heritage. Then, after the election was over, she sought retribution in an under-handed and vindictive way.

Even so, I'd forgive her immediately she shows any contrition for her sins (it's the Christian way). That's unlikely to be soon.

OTH Gavin simply has a different opinion than I do about some issues. He's never been even slightly dishonest or deceptive about what he thinks. There's nothing to forgive.

I wish people in this town would show a little more maturity in their understanding and tolerance of democracy and diversity.

Lyan Braw said...

"Following one of Law's demonstrations, he was described by reporter Henry Tuttiett as a serial "pest"."

So they got some thing right then.

Name withheld in deference to my liege the great B.L. said...

May I dare to comment, Sir Bryan, noble knight of the common christian folk, perhaps you should see if the unfortunately titled 'village idiot' Andrew Bolt is free for the job. Now there is a man of moral values that surely you could identify with and he also is already apprenticed with the Lord of perpetual conservative enlightenment, Emperor Rupert of Murdoch. That mere shoelicker King has no chance of aspiring to such great heights.

R Hall said...

This is the most negative, apathetic newspaper that does damage to the Cairns area with it's pathetic campaigns against anything that is for the future of the region. There needs to be an entire culture shift

yk said...

Great news. I remember how Ului might be heading our way when the damn thing was still 1000kms out to sea. It's a wonder they don't report that a truck, loaded with explosives, has just left Melbourne and might be heading towards Cairns.
I know that it must sometimes be difficult to find sufficient to write about, but speculation does not become journalism

Tony Hillier said...

While loathe to kick a man in the solar plexis before he's had a chance to show his colours, the fact that the new editor of the Compost comes to Cairns direct from the Adelaide Advertiser does not exactly encourage optimistic thoughts. Anyone of intelligence who has lived in Adeloid for any period of time will tell you that "The Tizer" is a god awful rag, much like our own daily organ. The bottom line is that News Ltd selects its editors not on their journalistic ability and community standing, but on their capacity to tow the commercial line, which means, of course, pushing development. The local "white shoe" brigade will no doubt be thrilled by the recent appointment.

Tony Hillier said...

Today's (Tuesday May 25) front page non-story — 'Car Collector Driven To Sell His Dream Machines' — is a classic example of the Compost's embarrassing rev-head mentality. To compound the travesty, it's also the subject of the day's editorial. 'Car-tastrophe for Far North'!!!!! Really??????????

I'd be interested to know what the incoming new editor made of Nick Dalton's cockeyed news sense. Even the "Tizer" would think twice about running a piece that is at best trivia; at worst a full page ad.